We are witnessing what appears to be an acceleration of the usually slow process of history. Within a few months we have seen the Berlin Wall come down, East and West Germany united, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the dismantling of the Soviet empire and the worldwide discrediting of communism, the United Nations at last punishing an aggressor and imposing peace on a region, the beginnings of a new world order and an expansion of the revival of the Roman Empire. History is seemingly racing to the climax foretold in the Bible.
While it will no doubt involve arduous, perilous and lengthy negotiations, Israel seems to be moving toward that "peace" pact with its Arab neighbors of which Scripture warns. This false peace that will ensure the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem will ultimately be guaranteed by Antichrist: "ye receive me not, [but] him ye will receive" (Jn:5:43); "...by peace shall [he] destroy many" (Dn 8:25). Surely the stage is being set for the second coming of our Lord, who will rescue Israel at Armageddon.
At that climactic battle the redeemed, in their resurrected and glorified bodies, will accompany Christ. When our Lord returns from heaven to destroy Antichrist and to set up His millennial kingdom, we will be with Him and like Him, sharing in His triumph: "and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thes:4:17). Even Enoch knew this fact and prophesied, "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment..." (Jude 14-15). Zechariah tells us that when "the Lord goes forth" to destroy the nations attacking Israel and "his feet stand...upon the mount of Olives,"..."all the saints" will be with him (14:5).
For all His saints to come with Christ from heaven at His second coming, they must have been taken there previously. Of course, the souls and spirits of the saints who have died through the ages are already with Christ. The Resurrection, however, must have occurred in order for them to come to Armageddon in glorified bodies. John refers to those accompanying Christ as "the armies which were in heaven." He declares that they are "arrayed in fine linen, clean and white" (Rv 19:8)—exactly what the Bride has been clothed with earlier at her marriage in heaven to Christ (19:7-8). It is specifically stated that this is the clothing "of saints."
"All the saints" must include those Christians who have not yet died. Obviously, then, not only must the dead saints have been resurrected, but the living saints must have been transformed and caught up into heaven, as well, prior to the Second Coming. This is exactly what is described in 1 Corinthians:15:51-52 and 1 Thessalonians:4:13-18. That event, the simultaneous resurrection and Rapture, is essential so that "all the saints" may be together in heaven in bodies of glory clothed in "fine linen, white and clean," from whence they accompany Christ when He returns to earth at His second coming.
We must conclude, then, that the resurrection Rapture is distinct from, and occurs prior, to the second coming of Christ. First of all, He comes for His saints, and only thereafter when He has them all with Him above can Christ come down from heaven with His saints. How long prior to the Second Coming must the Rapture occur? One week of years; i.e., seven years. That answer is found in one of the Bible's most remarkable prophecies:
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people [Israel] and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
...from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks [69 weeks total]...and after...shall Messiah be cut off...and the people of the prince that shall come [i.e., the counterfeit messiah] shall destroy the city [Jerusalem] and the sanctuary [temple]...And he [Antichrist] shall confirm the covenant...for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice...to cease... (Dn 9:24-27).
Daniel delineates a period of 70 weeks (of years) that will include the first coming of Christ, His murder (a "cutting off"), and the coming of one who will pretend to be "Messiah the Prince," called "the prince that shall come," i.e., Antichrist. The 70 weeks will end with Christ's second coming and the establishment of His millennial kingdom ("to anoint the most Holy"). Moreover, these 70 weeks specifically pertain to Israel ("upon thy people").
Daniel's amazing prophecy also foretells the exact time of Messiah's coming: 7+62=69 weeks of years (69x7=483) after the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem. Daniel also declared that after Messiah was cut off, the temple and Jerusalem would again be destroyed, this time by "the people of the prince who shall come" (Antichrist). This was fulfilled in a.d.70 by the armies of Rome under Titus. Therefore the Roman Empire must be revived in order for its people to become the people of the Antichrist.
Writing in Gary North's Biblical Chronology, December 1990, James B. Jordan tries to date Daniel's 70 weeks from the decree given by Cyrus to Ezra (2Chr 36:23; Ezr 1:2-4). However, that decree authorized the rebuilding of the temple, whereas Daniel was told that the 70 years would be counted "from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" (Dn 9:25). That authority was given to Nehemiah by Artaxerxes (Neh:2:8-9) in response to his explicit request to "send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers...that I may build it (Neh:2:5).
It is true that Jeremiah:25:10, Isaiah:44:28 and 45:13 state that Cyrus will allow the Jews to return to rebuild both the temple and the city. Such credit to Cyrus, however, for the rebuilding of Jerusalem was based, no doubt, upon his decree allowing Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, which thus paved the way for Artaxerxes to authorize Nehemiah to rebuild the city. The Bible is quite clear that Cyrus only gave Ezra specific authorization to rebuild the temple and that it was Artaxerxes who gave Nehemiah the authority to rebuild the city. Therefore, we must begin counting the 69 weeks of years (to Messiah's coming) from the later date.
In addition to starting with the wrong date, Jordan fails to recognize that one week is missing. Thus, he calculates the entire 70 weeks (490 years) from Cyrus's decree to Ezra, which he dates at a "revised" 457 b.c. Cyrus, however, cannot be the Artaxerxes in Nehemiah, because he reigned only about nine years, whereas Nehemiah tells us that he made his petition and it was granted "in the month Nisan in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king" (Neh:2:1), thus giving us a crucial date. Artaxerxes Longimanus (the only Artaxerxes who ruled long enough to fit Nehemiah's description) ruled from 465-425 b.c., thus his twentieth year was in 445 b.c. Sir Robert Anderson established the fact that precisely 483 years of 360 days later (69 weeks of years), to the day, by the Jewish and Babylonian calendars, Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem, was hailed by crowds along his route as "Messiah the Prince," and four days later was crucified as prophesied.
Recently I listened to a tape by the late Walter Martin arguing against a pretribulation Rapture. He raised the standard objection that the pretrib position had not been held by the church until the early 1800s. He neglected to explain that belief in the Rapture was lost under Roman Catholicism and the Reformers failed to recover it, yet there were always Christians who held this hope (the Anabaptists in the 1500s, for example).
Like Jordan, Martin dated the 70 weeks from Cyrus's command to Ezra, which he, too, set at 457 b.c. Then he stated, "If you go from 457 [b.c.] 489 years you will arrive at a.d.27 and then you will arrive at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ three and one-half years later. In a.d.70, Titus the Roman Emperor besieged Jerusalem ...destroyed the Temple....He (Titus] was the Prince that came...."
So Martin also had the wrong starting date, the wrong number of years to add to it (489 instead of 483), and arrived at the wrong time—the beginning of Christ's ministry (which he erroneously dated at a.d.27). Actually, the 69 weeks ended with Messiah's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which occurred in a.d.32. Nor could Titus have been "the prince that shall come," for he made no covenant that he broke in "the midst of the week." That will be done by the real "prince who shall come," i.e., Antichrist.
We know that 69 of the 70 weeks (483 out of 490 years) involving Israel elapsed between the command to restore Jerusalem and Christ's triumphal entry into that city when He was hailed as the Messiah. At that time, quite clearly, the 70 weeks of years were interrupted. One week (seven years) never ran its course. It is to this week that Daniel undoubtedly refers as the time period of Antichrist's covenant with Israel, in the midst of which he will break it and seat himself in the temple (2 Thes:2:4).
Much that verse 24 declares was to have been fulfilled within the 70 weeks has not yet occurred. It is clear, therefore, that the seventieth week remains to this day in abeyance and must yet be future. That conclusion cannot be honestly rejected as a dispensational theory dreamed up by Darby or Scofield. On the contrary, we are driven to that conclusion by Scripture and logic.
Why has the seventieth week been deferred? There is only one explanation: Israel's rejection of Christ and the birth of His church interrupted God's dealings with Israel. Thus, the presence of the church upon earth continues to put the last week of years on hold. Only by the removal of the church could the final seven years begin to run their course for Israel. God will then deal with her in that period known as "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer30:7) and the "Great Tribulation" (Mt 24:22). Here we have an irrefutable argument for the "imminent, pretribulation Rapture of the church."
Their imminent Rapture to heaven was the great hope of the early Christians. To this fact the New Testament bears undeniable witness. That hope, however, was largely lost during the Dark Ages of Roman Catholic domination, and only a fraction of the church has recovered it and kept it alive since the Reformation. Sadly, that "blessed hope" (Ti 2:13) is being lost again in the flood of ecumenism and false teaching that is inundating the church today.
We return to this topic often because, first of all, it is a major theme of the New Testament, which repeatedly declares that Christians "serve the living and true God; and...wait for his Son from heaven (1 Thes:1:9-10)...[and continually] look for the Saviour [from heaven]" (Phil:3:20; Heb:9:28). Secondly, the notion that the Rapture could be delayed at all (post-anything) is presented as having an evil effect upon those embracing that idea: "if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken..." (Mt 24:48-49). Thirdly, the Bible indicates that nothing has such a powerful motivating and purifying effect upon Christians as the hope of an imminent Rapture: "every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself" (1 Jn:3:3).
The purifying hope John wrote of could not have been a postmillennial coming at least 1,000 years away, for that would have no motivating impact upon our lives. Nor could he have meant a posttrib Rapture, for most if not all those who come to Christ during the Great Tribulation will be slain by Antichrist (Rv 13:7,15). That prospect could hardly be a unique "blessed hope" (Ti 2:13).
Christ exhorts us: "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord...blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching....Be ye therefore ready...for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not" (Lk 12:35-40). Such language doesn't fit a post-anything Rapture, for it would be foolish to watch and wait for One who will not come until after Antichrist appears or the Great Tribulation or Millennium have come and gone.
Let's get serious about imminency! How tragic that those of us who claim to believe that Christ could return at any moment so often deny this hope by our lives. That doesn't mean that we don't build a house or plan for business or church expansion—but we hold such things loosely. Our real interest is in heaven, our longing is to be with Christ, and our passion is to live and witness for Him, winning souls, knowing that He could come at any moment. May this blessed and glorious hope transform our lives! Maranatha! TBC